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The Tonight Show is in the midst of a major shakeup behind the scenes as showrunner Jim Bell unexpectedly announced he was leaving NBC. Bell was originally expected to step down in early 2020, but now the Jimmy Fallon-hosted late night show is without the man who guided the series' direction for the past year.
For now, The Tonight Show has promoted Gavin Purcell to showrunner, and he'll step in after Jim Bell finishes out the week with the program. Bell told Deadline that he had committed to a year of the show while helping the network prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and that he would re-evaluate his situation after that year. As mentioned, Bell was expected to ship off in early 2020, but has bumped up his exit date unexpectedly.
The reasons behind the quick exit are unknown, though there were reported tensions behind the scenes of The Tonight Show that surfaced months back. Jim Bell was reportedly at odds with the show's senior executive producer and Saturday Night Live showrunner Lorne Michaels. The disagreement stemmed from the show lagging in the ratings behind The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, with Bell reportedly thinking host Jimmy Fallon needed to reinvent himself a bit to improve the ratings.
It's possible further tensions with Lorne Michaels convinced Jim Bell to step aside early, though it's worth noting his early departure comes after author Ronan Farrow's new book about NBC's former Today host Matt Lauer. Bell is not implicated in anything the book covers, but was the executive producer of Today for a time during Lauer's tenure.
While audiences may not know Jim Bell by name, they may be familiar with some of the things he was responsible for during his time on The Tonight Show. Bell oversaw live shows following the Democratic National Debates and Sunday Night Football, a trip to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, and an episode that paid an homage to The Larry Sanders Show. With him gone, it will be interesting to see how or if The Tonight Show will change.
All this is happening while The Tonight Show continues to battle it out with CBS' The Late Show, which has benefited heavily from audiences showing a preference towards political humor. Poking fun at President Donald Trump helped Stephen Colbert find his footing in late-night, and continues to pay off as the Presidency continues. Will the success continue, or will The Tonight Show bounce back under a new showrunner?
The Tonight Show airs on NBC weeknights at 11:35 p.m. ET. Be sure to stick with CinemaBlend for more updates on the world of late night, and for other shows airing during the fall season.